Residents of Shelbyville, Tennessee, held a car parade today to celebrate the homecoming of Bryan Nerren, a local pastor and missionary who’d been detained in India since last October. The seven-month ordeal, sparked by an airport customs dispute, ended when India dropped all charges against Nerren and returned his passport.
The pastor’s family and a group of congregants eagerly awaited his arrival yesterday at the Nashville airport, and his legal team thanked members of Congress and the Trump administration for intervening on Nerren’s behalf.
Why Pastor Bryan Nerren Was Detained
As Church Leaders reported last fall, Nerren, pastor of the International House of Prayer Ministries in Shelbyville and founder of the Asian Children’s Education Fellowship, embarked on an annual trip to train Sunday school teachers in India and Nepal. Nerren, accompanied by two other U.S. pastors, was carrying money to cover conference expenses and was asked whether funds were going toward Christian purposes. Eventually, Nerren was arrested and held for six days. After he was released on bail, however, a judge confiscated his passport.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represented Nerren, says the pastor openly declared the funds, was never informed of the duty, and wasn’t even carrying enough money to constitute a crime. The lengthy ordeal, says the ACLJ, was “a misunderstanding that should have taken just hours to resolve administratively within customs.” The coronavirus pandemic complicated Nerren’s return, as India shut down its courts and all international flights.
The ACLJ worked with a range of U.S. officials to secure Nerren’s freedom, and more than 200,000 people signed a petition on his behalf. Christian persecution has spiked in India, which ranked 10th on the latest World Watch List from Open Doors.
Pastor Nerren Plans to Press On
While staying at a motel in India, Nerren communicated with his family and congregation via social media. He had regular in-person visits from other missionaries, who inspired him to continue and even ramp up his work. The pastor tells a Nashville TV station that his efforts to help churches and poor children in Asia “will triple.”
Nerren says he’s always known missions work involves some risk, but he’d assumed the worst consequence would be getting kicked out of the country and sent home. “[I] never would have imagined they would take me to prison and hold me for seven-and-a-half months for nothing,” he says about his 17th trip to the region.
The toughest part of being detained, Nerren says, was knowing how much strain and pain his wife, Rhonda, was enduring at home. The couple have a child with special needs, and Rhonda, a hospital worker, fell ill in March and had to wait 10 days to get a COVID-19 test result, which was negative. During their time apart, Rhonda was a vocal supporter of her husband, proclaiming, “His only crime is living out his steadfast love for Jesus.”
When asked about his immediate plans now that he’s back in Tennessee, Nerren says he’ll “do whatever my wife tells me, for as long as she tells me. Amen.”